July 2003


July 31, 2003

The dangers of multi-mode travel or Nothing beats a Dutchman with a BMW

Michael Jennings | Transport Miscellany

For a week until Monday, I was partaking of a little tour of the South of France, mostly in Provence. As it happened, I purchased a return ticket on Ryanair from London Stansted to Montpellier, which thanks to the deregulation of European air routes cost me only 53 pounds return, tax inclusive. After arriving in Montpellier last week, I slowly worked my way to Marseilles, which was where I found myself at 5.30pm on Monday. My flight was due to fly out of Montpellier at 10.20pm, and the final check-in time was 9.50pm.

No problem. France's world famous railways should get me there in plenty of time. There were frequent services to Montpellier, including one leaving at 6.03pm, arriving at about 7.30pm. I would have plenty of time in Montpellier in which to buy some wine and a few bottles of Belgian beer, both much cheaper than in France then in England. I normally travel very light - just one small backpack that I carry as hand luggage - so I would need another bag to carry the drinks. As it happened, my rucksack was old and falling to pieces, and I saw one for sale cheaply in Marseilles, which I purchased. I now had two bags and would have to check one of them rather than just carry hand luggage, but such would be the price of having some of that lovely Belgian beer to put in the fridge when I got back to London.

So, I got on the train to Montpellier. After about 15 minutes, the train stopped in a place called Rognac, barely outside the suburbs of Marseilles. There was an announcement that I could not understand, because I do not speak French. The young woman in the seat in front of me was talking on her mobile phone in English (and there was an open copy of The Economist on the seat beside her), so I asked her if she had any idea what was going on. She didn't, but the message eventually filtered through from the other passengers that there was a fire near Arles, which was causing the delay.

Continue reading "The dangers of multi-mode travel or Nothing beats a Dutchman with a BMW"


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July 30, 2003

Transport at the movies

Brian Micklethwait | Transport movies

I've just done a piece about something else on my Culture Blog which began thus:

The other night I watching a rather silly movie called Pushing Tin, which is about insanely neurotic air traffic controllers – in other words the exact sort you do not ever want to be controlled by. As I say, rather silly, even if the background facts it all sprang from so insanely may have been accurate, for all I know. Anyway, my point here is that …

Immediate comment from Jim of Jim's Journal:

Re: Pushing Tin. I have a brother-in-law who is an air traffic controller. He says about the only connection between the movie and reality is that both have airplanes.

Which provokes such questions as: What other transport based movies can we think of? How good are they? And more to the point here, how transportationally accurate are they?

My favourite transport based movies both involve trains:

The Silver Streak - which is about a journey on the train from Los Angeles to Chicago, in this case culminating in the Silver Streak smashing at full speed into Chicago Central. Patrick (The Prisoner) McGoohan is a great villain.

The Train – John Frankenheimer's black and white masterpiece starring Burt Lancaster, and the wonderful (and hideously underused by the movies) Paul (Man For All Seasons) Scofield as a nazi trying to use a scarce train to take some French paintings back to the Fatherland, with Lancaster and his pals of course stopping him by diverting The Train, through stations with substitute names.

I also liked Von Ryan's Express, starring Frank Sinatra. Also train based of course.

Just remembered a good one that isn't train dependent: The Big Bus - nuclear powered!!!

And I also liked Pie in the Sky a lot, which is about traffic broadcasting from a helicopter.

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A new tube torture

Brian Micklethwait | London Underground

Ever since I first saw automatic ticket selling machines, in Germany in the eighties, and then saw them arrive in the London Underground or the "tube" as we call it here, and then saw these machines sporting "OUT OF ORDER" or "EXACT MONEY PLEASE" messages, I have know that there is no machine, no matter how Teutonically efficient in its apparently inherent nature, that the tube wouldn't find a way of mucking up and rendering English.

Yesterday I observed a new version of this syndrome, in the form of a new London Underground torture inflicted by means of automatic train doors.

The self-opening and self-shutting doors on trains. They usually work, right? Yes. Until yesterday. Yesterday on the Jubilee Line I observed the doors that let you in and out of tube trains misbehaving.

Continue reading "A new tube torture"


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In the news

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel Rail Link | SRA

Eurostar train breaks rail speed record - at least we got something for our £6bn
Railways 'could face years of chaos' - back to reality

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July 29, 2003

In the news

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | Alistair Darling | British Rail Privatisation | Christian Wolmar | London Congestion Charging | New Trains | Road Miscellany | SRA | Transport General

Rail watchdog organises day-trips into reality
Commuters shunt rural trains into sidings - SRA prepares to cut rural services
Motorists face new stealth tax
Sort it out, Mr Darling - Christian Wolmar in the Standard
Perhaps the steadfast BBC should run the railways - Telegraph comment
Railways face long closures for repairs
Milking the motorist - Sunday Times leader
Did they lose your bag? Soon you can claim £850
Congestion charge shortfall delays trains
Transport delays cost city £1m a day

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July 25, 2003

The Conservatives have a transport policy

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Iain Murray has goaded me to comment on the Conservatives' new transport policy which seems to consist of increasing the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 80mph and building some more motorways.

If only it were that easy.

You see where it says "For a free market in transport"? Well, I mean it. I want to see market mechanisms applying in transport because, I believe that they will lead to a better world given all the breaks.

The problem is that the Conservatives' policy owes nothing to market mechanisms. Now, as it happens, if we were to have a free market in transport, I think we would indeed see more and faster motorways, so in that respect it probably is better than the chaos we have at present. Lord knows, the complete absence of a policy would be better than what we have at present.

But I feel it misses so much. The free market of my fevered imagination would be a place of hundreds of new road schemes, thousands of new bus and jitney services, people experimenting with express, covered cycle lanes, electronic toll collection, the building of vast new cross London railways paid for from the proceeds of property development, the re-integration of the railways, the elimination of pointlessly uneconomic branch lines. There would be a white heat of new ideas, invention, fortunes being made and fortunes being lost. Young boys would be enthralled by reports of the next great transport thing just as they would have been a century ago.

But all we're going to get is a few more roads and a slightly more sensible speed limit.

Yawn.

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In the news

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel | Fragmentation | Railtrack and Network Rail | Transport General

Rail chiefs douse the fire over bonuses
Rail watchdog wants West Coast upgrade delay
Watchdog puts the brakes on rail spending - including info on nature of maintenance contracts
Cut congestion costs the easy way, free of charge - Graham Searjeant
Network Rail must get a grip on runaway costs - Times editorial
Dividends paid by Channel Tunnel - Peter Semmens

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July 23, 2003

In the news

Patrick Crozier | Alistair Darling | Channel Tunnel | Railtrack and Network Rail | Road Miscellany | Transport General

Eurotunnel misses debt target as sales fall
Railtrack claimants to put case to Darling
Network Rail to face protest vote
Eurotunnel revenues tumble as price war keeps capacity at half
Duncan Smith in pledge to build more motorways
Darling's £7 billion 'giveaway' - Austin Williams
Network Rail members to demand quarterly summits

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July 21, 2003

Railways, social goods and compulsory purchase

Patrick Crozier | Compulsory Purchase

In response to my posting on "What is this blog for?" and in response to my question about why the free market couldn't produce underground railways as well as Mars Bars both David Sucher of City Comforts and Tim Hall of When Worlds Collide make a similar point. Their point is that while it is fairly easy for the manufacturers to capture the full benefit of Mars Bars it is fairly (perhaps extremely) difficult for railway companies to capture the full benefit of railway lines. The benefit tends to go to the owners of property close to the stations. Because, there are many owners and it is difficult to buy up all that property (not everyone wants to sell - especially if they know someone is going to build them a station for free) therefore, the state must intervene.

It's the "therefore" I baulk at.

For a number of reasons. Firstly, there are many examples of private railways being built. Japan's private railways spring to mind as do Britain's (historically speaking that is. Japan's railways are most interesting because it seems that right from the beginning they were aware of the benefits of property development and have been quick to exploit them. How did they do it?

Secondly, if it is actually impossible to build these railways without some element of compulsory purchase is that really so bad? Are there alternatives in terms of better use of existing roads and railways and (while we're thinking about it), rivers and airspace? I think we should at least find out. Were the state make it plain that it would not intervene that would also force railway companies into exploring the true limits of the free market. You never know they could just be bluffing.

Thirdly, I am not happy with the assumption that state intervention would be better. Brian has made the point in another place (do you have the link, Brian?) that if there is one thing worse than bad state intervention it's good state intervention. Why's that? Because, the politicians get one success and then try to repeat it well past the point at which it continues to succeed. To my mind a classic example of this is the Japanese Shinkansen (Bullet trains). The original Tokyo to Osaka Tokaido Shinkansen was a massive success. (Well, for the sake of argument let's assume it was. I think it was). But, flushed with this success the Japanese government started building them everywhere. Result: financial collapse for the Japanese railway. The debt is still on the books (of the state now) and is owed by all sorts of people who did not benefit from the Shinkansens. Which is unfair.

I would also like to draw a distinction between the situation faced by an overland railway operator and an underground railway operator. To build an overland railway you have to acquire all the land on that route. To build an underground railway (and make it pay) you don't have to buy all of it (ie land around stations - the route being fairly easy to acquire) but you do have to buy a lot of it.

Now, all this is tentative. If it can be proved in pretty stark terms that a country without compulsory purchase is going to go into economic decline with the ultimate threat of invasion (and therefore the implentation of state intervention anyway) well we may as well have it. Which brings up an entirely new debate as to what sort of intervention is required.

Being a state-o-sceptic, if there has to be intervention ie force, I would rather it was as light, limited and of as short a duration as possible. And the minimum possible force should be applied. I suppose it ought to be in the form of the forcible acquisition of land at a rate substantially above the market rate with that land being immediately sold on to the developer. But it's still rather messy.

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In the news

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel | Crossrail | Rail Economics | Rail Miscellany | Railtrack and Network Rail | Road Miscellany

You cannot con us, Mr Darling - Simon Jenkins
Virgin Express?
Network Rail to get back on track the Welch way - they're going to use a trendy management technique. Wonder if it'll work.
On This Day - 1890 - wingeing cabbies. Some things never change.
Tunnel operator to seek freight ties - Graphic

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July 18, 2003

British Airways strike at Heathrow

Brian Micklethwait | Airlines UK

British Airways has been hit by a strike. Flights cancelled. Thousands of passengers stranded with nothing but a permanently engaged phone line to tell them what the hell is happening.

What does this mean? I know almost nothing of the details of the dispute. Something to do with more tight monitoring of working time. Something like that.

But there's more to it than this, I believe. The feeling in Britain for some months now has been that we are back to the days of strikes and stoppages.

Basically, after years of self-abnegation, Britain now has an old fashioned tax-and-spend government. They decided a few months ago that the Opposition was permanently dead, and that they could tax and spend with impunity. The trouble is that hinting at infinite government largesse, which is actually still fairly finite of course, means that there is now massive room for public sector institutions (or even are-they-or-aren't-they-public-sector? institutions like BA) to disagree wildly about whether or not there is more money in the pot. Managements may protest in all sincerity that that's all there is, or that this or that new and more irksome work practice is essential. And Unions (or as in this case just gangs of unofficial strikers) may be sincerely convinced that they are lying, or mistaken, and that a little more pressure will get a Minister down from the political mountains with a suitcase full of more money to pay them more or to enable them to go on not being irked. That's the climate we have now entered, or rather gone back to.

But whether that has anything directly to do with this strike, I can't say. No doubt there'll be more links here, in the next few hours and days.

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What is this blog for?

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

Why do I ask? Right at the top, underneath "Transport Blog" it says: "For a free market in transport" Doesn't that answer the question? Pretty much, but it didn't stop Brian and myself spending half an hour discussing this issue this afternoon on the telephone.

What Brian was saying was that he wants examples and ideas from everywhere that can be used everywhere. He wants to hear about, for example, horse transport in Russia, and how it might apply to London, Lisbon and Kuala Lumpar. I agree. I don't want it to be a London-centric ghetto. I too want to hear examples of how other people around the world and (for that matter) in other times have solved their transport problems. Dammit, it's not even their transport problems. We move ourselves and goods around the place for a reason and I am just as interested in alternatives to moving goods and people around the place. That's why we have a category called "Staying put".

While on a personal level I am in favour of trains (or at least the idea of trains) as a libertarian I am entirely neutral on the question of whether that is the best way of getting around and even whether that getting around is actually necessary. Dammit, if the answer (given all the plusses and minuses) is smoke-belching buses, or trams, or segways or air cars, or even taller buildings or sitting at home with a video link, I want to hear about it.

I also want to promote the idea that there are no no-go areas for (pace Perry) libertarianism. If the free market is the best way of producing Mars Bars why shouldn't it also be the best way of providing underground railways? In that respect, although I am in currently in favour of compulsory purchase, I am very keen on hearing arguments against it. If it were possible to build railways and roads without engaging the full might of the coercive state, or even that it isn't and that the alternatives are acceptable, I want to know. I also want to know if the opposite is the case. If there is a role for the state and there are limits to freedom then let's hear it. Let us at least know where those limits lie and why.

Brian and I also discussed what Transport Blog isn't. We sort of instinctively agreed that space travel is off limits. It has to be mundane. So, why talk about Concorde? There is also the issue that the more you get into transport the more you realise that it touches on all sorts of other issues such as architecture and technology. It's all part of that Staying Put/Land Values debate. At what point do we draw the line? Are PDAs and the Gherkin appropriate subjects for Transport Blog?

Our discussion also made me realise that I want Transport Blog to be a lot bigger both in terms of readership and writership. What if a posting on, say, air conditioning on the London Underground could touch off a flood of informed comments from around the world? With, perhaps some people discussing the origins of the system and others talking about the engineering issues and others talking about the situation around the world and others saying: "Well, it's all too expensive and anyway, other people's sweat is good for you."

And what if, because it was the place where all the interesting debates took place, Transport Blog could become the first thing that transport professionals and enthusiasts around the world turn to in the morning? And could we develop a social side to this? There are stacks of people who have e-mailed me or commented over the last year or so who I would love to meet in the flesh.

Now, there's a challenge.

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In the news

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | Airport Expansion | Crossrail | Industrial Relations | LU PPP | Rail Economics | Rail Safety | Railtrack and Network Rail | Road Safety | SRA | UK Train Operators

Train drivers oust left-wing leader
Continuous revolution runs services off the rails - Graham Seargant (or is it Searjeant?)
French train gang targets sleeping Britons - you'd have thought the CAP would have been enough for anyone.
MPs favour expansion rather than new airports
Network Rail shunts SRA £545m in the red
FirstGroup makes bid for GB
Safety and train travel - the Times debate
Turmoil over BA proposal to buy BCal - on this day 1987
The Tube in London's hands - Tim O'Toole
Go-ahead for Crossrail - Evening Standard Comment
Unnamed bidder on the line for GB Railways - they think it's First
Motorcyclist jailed for record 157mph ride - but what harm was he doing?

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July 17, 2003

Totally safe equals impossible to run

Brian Micklethwait | Rail Safety

There's an article by Alasdair Palmer about the prosecution of the "Hatfield Six". He reckons that as the law stands the prosecution can't succeed, but that after it fails, there will be a clamour to change the law, to the point where such prosecutions will succeed. Whenever anything goes badly wrong again on the railways, someone will go to jail.

But, that will result in a further problem. It won't be possible to run the railways any more, because no one will be prepared to do the job.

Concluding paragraph:

People who choose to go by rail are prepared to accept the slightly increased chance of being killed or injured in exchange for being conveyed to their destination quickly and (relatively) cheaply. We may soon no longer have that choice, however. The only way to run a railway that never exposes anyone to any risk at all is to shut it down completely. That is the logical terminus of the safety obsession; and with the determination to punish managers and engineers every time they make a decision which turns out to be wrong, it is a terminus to which our trains are rapidly heading.

Which is actually why I think Palmer may be somewhat overdoing it when he says that this law will actually be changed. Even so, it's a thought worth following through, if only to see what it might lead to.

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Wires in the sky

Brian Micklethwait | Buses and Jitneys | New Trains

James Lileks bleats today about public "transportation":

I was walking around downtown this afternoon, noting the progress of the light rail line. A story in the paper noted that they’d be stringing the wires soon, and that gave me a certain amount of grim satisfaction. When people around here think of the light rail system in its future or past incarnation, they see quaint trains clattering past under a bright blue sky. They don’t think of overhead powerlines. I understand completely why no one really minded the end of the trolley system in the 50s; besides the fact that the cars were a bit old and drafty, they required a network of lines that made put a tic-tac-toe grid over every major intersection. When the lines came down, and the sky above the streets was clear for the first time in 50 years, it looked the way the promised atom-powered future ought to look. Air-conditioned, chrome-plated, wire-free.

Now the lines are going back up. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong; I hope the streetcars are filled to capacity, with people hanging off the sides and top like the Bangalore Express. I don’t want to see empty cars rattling by the Strib building. …

Lileks then says why he objected to the light railway to begin with. It was too expensive and the money could have been used giving poor people better buses. It should have been a different railway in a different place. The wires (see above). The destruction and disruption of the city. The ridiculous size of the "stations", which should just have been stops (pictures of vast erections supplied).

All this is taking place somewhere called "downtown", but I don't know which town it is down.

The "Strib" is a newspaper.

I used to like the old trolley buses in Reading though. No rails, but lots of wires in the sky. But the buses were double deckers, which meant that the wires were much higher off the ground, which made them less visually disruptive. THey were also a very nice colour – a sort of dark purpley-crimson, quite different from the orangey-scarlet-red of London's (wireless) buses.

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July 16, 2003

The uneducatedness of the steam engine pioneers

Brian Micklethwait | Rail History

I did a transport related posting yesterday on my Education Blog, about the British steam engine and locomotive pioneers Newcomen, Watt, Trevithick and Stephenson. Watt was the only one with more than a tiny smattering of education, and none of them had any scientific training. They all got their start by mucking about with existing machines and trying to make them better.

The posting is based on the writings of Terence Kealey, whose book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research is my current reading. Kealey's central points are that scientific advance doesn't depend on government money, and that technology is at least as likely to stimulate progress in "pure" science as the other way round.

The steam engine was not originally developed to power locomotives. That only came later. Its first use was for pumping water out of coal mines. But of course the coal that these steam engines made accessible also had a profound impact on transport.

It is widely believed that the steam engine pioneers had to know about the gas science that was going on at the time they were doing their work. But they didn't. However, the gas scientists were obliged to modify and develop their theories in the light of what the steam engine men were demonstrating to be true. Says Kealey, this is typical of the relationship between technology and science.

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July 15, 2003

"In principle"

Brian Micklethwait | Crossrail | New Trains

I know I'm not supposed to, but I love new railway lines, no matter how much money is wasted on them. Ain't nothing like a train.

So my inner five-year-old is all excited about this new train set they're going to buy us:

After years of delay and dithering, the Government came off the fence yesterday and gave its backing to Crossrail, the ambitious £10bn plan to create an east-west rail link through London.

Although the long-awaited announcement by Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, was welcomed by Crossrail itself, by rail users' groups, MPs and the London Assembly, it was hinged with caveats. Some critical issues have been left unresolved, including the level of public-private finance.

There was also widespread disappointment that the scheme was, according to the Department of Transport, "very, very unlikely" to be completed by the 2012 Olympic Games, for which London is bidding, despite a report commissioned by the Treasury that said it was essential for public transport for the Olympics.

The backing relates to what Crossrail refer to as its "benchmark" scheme – essentially the core of the project – which envisages a direct rail link between Richmond and Heathrow in the west and Ebbsfleet in Kent and Shenfield in Essex in the east. The section between Paddington and Whitechapel would be in a new tunnel under central London.

Announcing that the Government would support the Crossrail plan "in principle", Mr Darling said: "The Government continues to support the principle of building a new east-west Crossrail link. We see merit in the arguments for such an increase in capacity to support London's continued growth and success."

A stumbling block remains the precise extent of Treasury support, and Mr Darling made clear that the private sector would have to contribute "very substantially" if the scheme was to go ahead.

"Widespread disappointment"? "Benchmark scheme"? And worst of all "in principle"? My inner five-year-old's lower lip is now wobbling seriously. This damn thing isn't going to happen, ever. It's a New Labour con. They announce some damn great public spending scheme, get all the credit for being so generous with our money, but don't actually do it and therefore don't actually have to find the money. I hate them. I hate them.

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In the news

Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion | Alistair Darling | Channel Tunnel | Corporate Manslaughter | Crossrail | Fares and Ticketing | Rail Incidents | Rail Safety | Railways - Other | Road Miscellany | Road Pricing | SRA | Transport Miscellany

Crossrail sets off too late for Games
Darling orders new delays for Crossrail
Row over rail chief's first class pass
Eurostar travellers demand compensation
A rail ticket for today? That’ll be 20% extra
Hypersafety is the greatest danger to rail - Simon Jenkins
Blackpool illumination on how to run trams
'Hot weather' delays trains
Don't let money rule skies
M25 to become eight-lane superhighway
Mr Prescott has been silenced. Perhaps Mr Darling is keeping quiet because he has nothing to shout about
Anti-road protesters take to the trees again
Rail bosses told to be ready for arrests
Congestion charges will come in with £6bn roads expansion
Focus: Railways: time for the axe
Supertrain fiasco cools China zeal for big projects

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DUKWs again – this time for bringing in the fish

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

A comment appeared yesterday from one Dean Speir, attached to a long dead Samizdata posting about the DUKW, the amphibious vehicle that they used to storm beaches in WW2, and subsequently for all manner of other things. Including for these, recalls Dean:

My father was Colonel Frank Speir, Project Engineer of the Army's Amphibious Warfare Program until the time of his death in 1956. He, along with celebrated sailor and yacht designer Rod Stevens Jr. and "Blue Water Vagabond" Dennis Puleston, was one of the progenitors of the Army's DUKW at the start of WW II.

One of the most utilitarian applications we found for surplus DUKWs was in Spring 1956 when we discovered a group of abalone fisherman using them in California to bring their "catch" ashore directly from the boats to the markets. This was opposite the Hearst castle, San Simeon.

Before the DUKWs became popular as sight-seeing and urban tour craft, they were used extensively by volunteer fire departments along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States as a marine rescue vehicle.

So, DUKWs for ensuring that those fishes in the market are ocean fresh! I like it.

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July 10, 2003

On railway deaths and road deaths

Brian Micklethwait | Road Safety

"Seven killed in motorway crash."

That's three more than in the Hatfield rail crash, yes? However, nothing big will follow. There'll be no shutting down of the motorway network, no fifty zillion pounds spent on new safety measures that won't be. And quite right too.

The big difference between road safety and train safety is that road safety is in your hands. If you drive carefully you can pretty much guarantee not to get killed in your car, or to kill anyone else.

This is a controversial claim, but I believe it to be true. I remember once hinting to my father, just to make conversation, that there could be, you know, an articulated lorry out there with your name on it. He went ballistic. No. If you drive correctly, you can see such things coming and be ready if they start to make their potentially fatal move. You clock all the potential accidents in your path. That kid on the pavement, who might step out without looking. That car approaching from the side road. Those elderly pedestrians crossing, who might drop something and stop to pick it up instead of getting out of the way. The sports car approaching in the mirror. The safe driver thinks about accidents that are about to happen, in the same kind of relentless way that all men are supposed to be thinking all the time about sex. The safe driver mentally undresses every situation, so to speak, for its accident potential. And that way, he drives without blemish, decade after decade.

I believe my dad had a point. He did drive decade after decade without blemish.

And I believe that millions of others also agree. Millions agree with my dad that all deaths on the roads are the fault of the drivers involved, all of the drivers involved. If any one of the drivers involved had been driving like my dad did instead of how they actually did, there'd have been fewer deaths and maybe none at all. It's tough on passengers who die on the roads. But they could have created a culture of safety instead of nagging dad to go faster, so they too deserved to die, if they did.

They cause death on the railways. Road deaths? They're up to us. This is what everyone thinks, and everyone is right.

Deaths on the railways are pointless and horrible. On a truly excellent railway, there are no deaths whatsoever. Deaths on the road are necessary – inevitable even – to slow us all down.

That's why we make more fuss about train deaths than road deaths, and that's why we are right.

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Negative externalities

Brian Micklethwait | London Underground

Today in London was seriously hot and seriously humid. The tube was a sauna, so on this hottest, sweatiest day of the year so far, what do I encounter in it? Correct. One of those men who has industrial strength, clear the carriage, clothes peg on the nose, what-the-hell-is-THAT?, stench from hell, bee oh. The last time I endured a stink like that was in a timber town in Finland. Never has the journey from Pimlico to Victoria been longer. When, after what seemed like twenty minutes, we finally got to Victoria, I ran to the next carriage. But one.

What is the answer for this wretched guy? I mean, he makes a normal stink seem like a state of the art air conditioning system. I suppose in Brian-world, or for that matter Patrick-world, the tube is privately owned, and he's not allowed in. But it seems harsh. I mean, this is a guy who must smell seriously bad to himself, and for him there's no escape. And on top of that, he has to sit in a half-empty carriage (in a crowded train) that empties completely at every station. What a life.

I can't think of any other circumstances in which I am seriously subjected to the negative side of such people. Ah, the romance of travel.

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July 09, 2003

The two big transport stories are two of the biggest stories today

Brian Micklethwait | Christian Wolmar | Rail Crime | Road Pricing

The two big transport stories today are that six people have been charged with manslaughter for the Hatfield rail crash, and that seven billion quid is to be spent widening some of Britain's roads. Indeed, at telegraph.co.uk (which is where the links above go) these are currently the top two stories.

Both look like the government in disarray to me. A few wretched middle managers being charged for a disaster that was surely caused by something bigger and badder than just them, and a few wretched motorways are to have their traffic jams widened.

I got the first of those points from Christian Wolmar, talking about these two matters on Channel 5 News earlier this evening. But I also agree with him that the second may be a bit more positive than just the government chucking money at traffic jams. If the widening is used as an excuse to introduce road pricing on Britain's motorways, as seems to be the case, then that will be a real step in the right direction.

That the London Congestion Charge scheme is widely believed to be a great success is the background fact behind all this. Is this true? Has it been a success? Not my point. It's thought to be a success. That's my point.

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July 08, 2003

A visit to London

David Farrer | Inter-modal Competition

My wife and I went down from Edinburgh to London at the weekend for the 3rd British Blogger Bash. We needed to make it a short visit and first checked the airline websites. BA and British Midland were far too expensive. EasyJet fares were about £60 return but when you add the tax and the cost of getting to and from the airport at both ends we were looking at more like £100 each.

The cheapest second class rail fare was the saver return at £83.70. I then noticed that we could travel to London on Saturday morning and return to Edinburgh on the first train on Sunday for £59 first class! A no-brainer, especially as you get unlimited free coffee and shortbread.

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More proof of the value of a face-to-face meeting - Alice meets Michael

Brian Micklethwait | Staying put

Here is further proof positive – if you need it – of the value of face-to-face meetings between potential or actual collaborators, in the form of the meeting last Saturday evening, at the Blogger Bash organised by Perry de Havilland, between Alice Bachini and Michael Jennings.

Anyway, I met two people whom I was very pleased to meet, and they were space-expert and musical Belfast-resident Dale Amon, who ended up showing Elizabeth, who is an original Belfaster (?), some photos of her home regions and favourite pubs etc (small place, Belfast), and extremely clever person Michael Jennings, who, as you will have noticed if you read his blog, Knows Everything, and promised to show me how to put photos on my blog one of these days before too long.

Now I can't say what if anything will come of Alice's friend meeting up with Dale Amon. Although bear in mind that Dale Amon connecting up with Perry de Havilland via the Libertarian Alliance Forum resulted in Samizdata, no less. But if Michael Jennings could sort Alice out doing pictures on her blog, it could give her and it and all of us readers of her and it a whole new bundle of fun and bloggery. I believe that pictures won't just give Alice something new to put on her blog; they'll also be a whole new thing for her to write about. ("In this picture, I am sporting flourescent lycra larmay whatsits together with a pastel shaded didgery do, plus high heels. Whatsits from Oxfam, 50p. Didgery do from the charity shop along the street from Oxfam, 20p. High heels from when I had that job as a pole dancer. Isn't capitalism just brilliant? Yes it most definitely is. The thing I really like about Didgery dos is …" etc.)

But now here's my point. I've "known" for weeks that this meeting between Alice and Michael ought to happen. And on Saturday night – this is my story and I'm sticking to it – I actually made it happen, because I already knew that it should. I've long known that Alice wanted to know how to do photographs, because I read her blog and she has been saying it for ages. And, I already knew that Michael (a) shares that Second Circle of Hell that is know as Blogger with Alice, and (b) Knows Everything, and (c) certainly knows (because there are pictures on his Blogger blog) how to put pictures on a Blogger blog. And I know and like both these persons. So why the hell did I not make the connection in my mind, and make the connection happen for real with a couple of emails or phone calls? Why did it need a party in London, at which both parties were fortuitously standing near to each other, and a(nother) conversation between me and Alice about how nice it would be for her to have photos on her blog, and for me to give it those two seconds of thought that were required for me to realise that I ought to introduce Michael Jennings to her, which I then did? Well, because that's what parties are for. That's the kind of thing they do. It took a party for two bits of information in two different parts of my brain to be forced into each other's company.

Which is why people who want to get things done will always be wanting to travel and to meet each other, and why Transport Blog will accordingly need to go on for ever. Virtual meetings (such as that between Perry and Dale – see above) definitely have their place in the grand scheme of things. But face-to-face meetings are even more likely to make things happen.

I've chosen "Staying put" as the category for this posting. But of course what I'm really saying is that staying put, again and again, is not enough.

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Beyond Brilliance

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

This has got to be one of the very best sites on the Internet. I got there because the presiding genius of it did a piece about the Trottoir Roulant Rapide and included a link to my Samizdata piece on that wonderful subject. And because he uses Movable Type, Samizdata registered the existence of the link. All hail the Internet. All hail MT.

Anyway, to repeat the link, all transport spotters should regularly visit Beyond Brilliance Beyond Stupidity. I'm sure Patrick has linked to them lots of times, but good things need to be said the again in the Blogosphere, I think.

As well as his piece on the TRR, there is a link to a site dealing with Tube Etiquette (see also the stuff on celebrity spotting (I suggest you scroll all thorugh it) in the Tube) and another link to someone called Seat Guru, who tells you which seats are best and worst in what ways on which different types of aircraft. You do have to know which aircraft you are using though, and I'm not sure if they actually tell you this. Even so, it's a good idea, especially for things like leg-room on long haul flights.

My seat moan is that on my very occasional air journeys, I constantly ask for a window seat with a nice view, and they constantly give me a window seat with a perfect view of the wing. Bastards.

There's also, though it's off topic here, a fine little piece about which is the tallest building in the world, and how they decide. Basically, Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur is "considered" to be the tallest, but Sears Tower in Chicago actually is. And he has a fine picture to prove it, and he explains how that all happened.

Fascinating stuff. In fact, beyond fascinating.

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July 06, 2003

A new pavement in Paris

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

The new Trottoir Roulant Rapide (which means: rapid rolling pavement) in Paris is, I think, of interest beyond the ranks of trottoir spotters. So I've done an appreciative posting about it at Samizdata, based on the BBC news report that Patrick referred to without further comment in the previous posting here of transport links.

As I often say at Samizdata about new technological developments (if only to compensate for all the gloomy postings about the European Union in particular and the political class and their predatory antics generally): I'm impressed.

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July 04, 2003

In the news

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | Airlines UK | Buses and Jitneys | Connex | Corporate Manslaughter | European Union | Fares and Ticketing | Rail Miscellany | Railtrack and Network Rail | Transport Miscellany

Pavement cyclists: £30 fines
The railroading of railways - Patience Wheatcroft
How Ryanair took off
Compensation rules for flight delays put back
Rail bosses face manslaughter charges
Walkway propels Paris metro into future - well maybe
Bus lanes 'worsen traffic'
Prime Minister offers French train maker help to save British jobs
Scot wins landmark case against airline - he was overbooked
Train-fare dodgers may face £20 fines
Where is the smoking gun in Bowker's dossier?
Accountants found no black hole at Connex
Poop-poop! It's IDS!
A horse is a safer bet than the trains - Boris Johnson
We'll raise M-way limit to 80mph, say Tories
Sacking can't be justified, says Connex
The railway that came back from the dead
Ultimatum over Railtrack

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European Union Announcement: Flight Compensation

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | European Union

Tired of delayed flights? Tired of overbooked flights? Tired of waiting around at airports? Well, in the future you won't have to. In the future you won't be able to.

That's because we at the European Union, fresh from our twin triumphs: the Common Agricultural Policy and the Euro, have decided to force airlines to pay compensation when their flights are delayed.

Now we wouldn't want to deny there is a downside to this. It means that flying planes will become more expensive for the operators. Which means that in some cases the fares will go up and in others the routes will be abandoned.

But don't you worry your pretty little prole head about it. You might have thought you wanted budget airlines run by dynamic entrepreneurs finding new niches in the market. You might have thought you were prepared to take the risk of a wait if it meant getting a ticket at the right price. You might have thought that airline food was perhaps a luxury you could forgo.

But you were wrong.

Actually, what you really wanted was a uniform range of over-priced national carriers with a limited range of destinations. Can't afford it? Well give up the pies and tabs you bunch of overweight mongs. Doesn't go where you want to go? Good. That means there'll be more unspoilt beaches for us bureaucrats. Have you ever thought what is like for us to watch you hauling your pock-marked, cellulite-ridden thighs across some of the finest vistas in Europe?

And don't give us this crap about freedom of choice. You were never really capable of deciding for yourself. Look at the way you dress for heaven's sake. How could you possibly decide on the right flight? You might have made a mistake and then where would we be?

Far better to let us make the mistakes for you. After all, we have the experience.

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July 03, 2003

Scottish air services

David Farrer | Air Miscellany

The Scottish government has established a £6.8 m “Interim Route Development Fund” to subsidise airlines offering new services to Scotland. The latest route to benefit is from Berlin to Prestwick. So far Edinburgh has gained six new routes and Prestwick three. In addition, BMI Baby has transferred its Cardiff route from Glasgow to Prestwick. Glasgow's politicians are up in arms. Why hasn't the government ensured that Glasgow gets some of the new routes?

This letter in the Glasgow Herald explains the facts:

As the erstwhile general manager of Northwest Airlines, I have some knowledge as to how airlines determine which routes best suit their strategic aims. A pity then that Sandra White, a Glasgow SNP MSP, did not take some time to understand this same issue before requesting the executive waste taxpayers' money in an inquiry into her perceived injustices (July 1).

The executive's route development fund is available to any airline seeking to start up any new route from Scotland to international destinations regardless of from which airport the airline chooses. The notion that the executive uses it to "dish out" new routes as if these routes were theirs to "dish out" is patently absurd. The routes are already there, it is up to the airlines to determine which routes are economically viable and to operate them accordingly.

Duo Airways chose to fly from Edinburgh rather than Glasgow to Milan, Geneva, Zurich, and Oslo because, as an airline whose strategic aims are to develop the business traffic, Edinburgh best suits their profile. Had they determined that Glasgow provided the best opportunities for profit they would have flown from there and received the same level of financial support from both the route development fund and from Scottish Airports.

If Sandra White wants to see new airlines and new routes from Glasgow the answer is not to call for costly inquiries based on spurious and unresearched grievances; her efforts would be better placed in attracting and developing new businesses in Glasgow and the west of Scotland whose executives would provide the business base and higher fares yield that attract airlines such as Duo.

R H Buntin

I don't think that the taxpayer should be subsidising airlines but at £5 a ticket the Air Passenger Duty must raise some £100 million a year from passengers at the main Scottish airports. We're just getting some of it back.

What all this shows is that Glasgow Airport should never have been opened when the old Renfrew Airport proved to be too small for the jet age. All services should have been concentrated at Prestwick, which is less than 30 miles from the city and enjoys good road and rail links with Glasgow.

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30-40 years of underinvestment

Patrick Crozier | Alistair Darling | Fragmentation | Railtrack and Network Rail

A couple of days ago, Network Rail, the not-private, not-state, not-for-profit but all-for-warmth-and-fuzziness rail infrastructure company announced its 10-year plan. Interviewed on the BBC part-time Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling said:

...for the last 30 to 40 years successive governments didn't put enough money into the railways
Well, he's either a liar or he's stupid or he doesn't know what he's talking about. Much as there may be an argument that for many years railways have been run on a shoestring leading to what former British Rail chairman, Peter Parker, described as: "the crumbling edge of quality" that in no way accounts for the monumental sums now being demanded by Network Rail.

The railway journalist, Roger Ford, estimates that infrastructure work nowadays costs three times what it used to cost in the days of British Rail. Why? Who knows, though the likely culprits are fragmentation and the demands of the Health and Safety Executive.

He also points out that in its latter days British Rail became adept at running its railway in such a way that it didn't have to spend so much money on infrastructure. Principally this meant keeping heavier trains eg. freight trains and anything needing a locomotive off large parts of the network. Heavier trains, you see, tend to bash the hell out of the infrastructure. With fragmentation and open(ish) access all this went out the window and the freight company, EWS (English, Welsh and Scottish), could run it trains wherever it liked with poor old Railtrack having to pick up the bill.

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July 01, 2003

Road pricing on White Rose

Brian Micklethwait | Road Pricing

I've just done a rather long posting for White Rose about road pricing, concentrating on the "total surveillance" angle. And I also linked to this piece by David Sucher, and to one of these two pieces here and here.

The gist of it is: in Britain, to start with there have been real problems with charging for road use by simply debiting motorists as they travel. Total Surveillance has to start with had real efficiency advantages. But the The Authorities will then become addicted to the other uses of Total Surveillance, which will make a switch to a more anonymous privacy-friendly pricing system hard to imagine.

Gloom and despondency, in other words.

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IN BRIEF

This is a list of date-based archives from the In Brief section:

November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004